Bush and Cheney testify in secret
Friday 30 April 2004
Behind closed doors and without even a recording being made of what they said, President George Bush and his deputy Dick Cheney were questioned yesterday by the 11 September commission about the administration's failure to prevent the al-Qa'ida attacks.
Before the private session began, the American public had been unsure about the extent to which Mr Bush and his officials were warned about the threat of Osama bin Laden's terror network; afterwards, they were barely better informed. The only concession to the historical record agreed by the White House was to allow two staff members of the commission to take written notes.
Mr Bush had never wanted to face the commission he set up to investigate the circumstances of the attacks. The administration eventually agreed that he and Mr Cheney would appear together, neither under oath, in a single, closed-door session with the 10 commission members in the Oval Office of the White House.
That was hailed as a breakthrough by the commission but, in exchange for that concession, its chairman had to agree that Mr Bush, Mr Cheney and no other senior officials would face further questioning. After the three-hour session Mr Bush told reporters: "I'm glad I did it; it's important."
Asked if had been advised by his lawyer not to answer any specific questions from the commissioners, he added: "I answered every question they asked ... It's probably best I not go into the details of the questions and let them incorporate [that] into their report ... If we had anything to hide we would not have met them." The testimony of Mr Bush and Mr Cheney has gripped Washington, with critics claiming the President is trying to protect himself from scrutiny.
His defenders say presidents rarely testify in such circumstances and the former president Bill Clinton - also under scrutiny for what he did and not do to tackle the threat from al-Qa'ida - also spoke to the commission in private.
"This is a good opportunity for the President to sit down with members of the commission and talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from al-Qa'ida, the steps we were taking to confront it, and how we have been responding to the attacks of 11 September," Mr Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said.
The commissioners arrived at the White House at about 9.15am and gathered for photographs around Mr Bush and Mr Cheney. Alberto Gonzales, a senior White House lawyer and two unidentified members of his staff were also present. The session began at 9.30am.
There was much for the commission members to ask. Timothy Roemer, a former Indiana Congressman and one of five Democrats on the commission, said he would ask Mr Bush about the contents of an intelligence briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US" that was given to him on 6 August, 2001, and what he did with that information. "Why wasn't [the threat level] higher, given the threat levels in spring and summer [of] 2001?" he said.
Some relatives of those killed in the attacks on New York and Washington said they were looking for answers. "The purpose is not to lay blame but to assess possible reforms," said Kristen Breitweiser, from New Jersey, whose husband, Ronald, was killed.
The White House has been thrown on the defensive by claims that it did not take seriously warnings about the growing threat from al-Qa'ida in the spring and summer of 2001. Richard Clarke, Mr Bush's former counter-terrorism chief, and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds say warnings were ignored.
- 1 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
- 5 'Isis' schoolgirls: Missing British teenager tweets picture of her Syrian takeaway
Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
Ian Brady: Moors murderer announces his support for Ukip and the SNP
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
UK weather: Britain braced for snow as arctic air mass moves in
Power of Nepal earthquake was equivalent to 20 huge atomic bombs
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...
£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...
£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...